North Pole, Donnelly Dome and Denali Highway

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August 11th 2015
Published: April 15th 2016
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North Pole

For anyone who loves Christmas, a trip to the North Pole is a really fun stopover. Nineteen miles southeast of Fairbanks, this tiny town has many yuletide nods like candy cane striped lampposts and street names like Sleighbell Circle and St Nicholas Drive.

The main destination should be the Santa Claus House, a large store chock full of Christmas merchandise, a live Santa, and even reindeer pens outside.

Donnelly Dome and Lake

Continuing south on Route 2 on the gorgeous Richardson Highway, which we’ll cover more fully in the next blog, the first major hiking destination is Donnelly Dome, a few miles south of the Delta Junction. Located near the Greeley Air Force Base (we heard test ordinance fired and witnessed a practice mass parachute jump), this bald mountain stands out.

The 3 mile (round trip) hike is steeper at the beginning but the panoramic views are fabulous all along this open dome so there’s always an excuse to catch your breath and enjoy. There are many moose in the area and we saw some wander onto the path below after we had begun our ascent. The 3,900 ft summit offers views of the Alaska range and Delta River valley.

Once we returned to our truck, we hurried across the highway to get a closer view of some moose in a pond we had seen from a higher elevation. Terry even tracked through the woods to get a closer camera angle with limited success due to the marshy terrain and trees in the way.

Denali Highway

Heading out of the Donnelly area, we were getting short on fuel so we pulled out our Milepost, the indispensable mile-by-mile guide for any Alaskan road trip. Unfortunately, we hadn’t forked over the $40 for a recent copy and were relying on a 1998 version donated by our friend Mark in Fairbanks.

In 1998, the town of Paxson at the intersection of the Denali and Richardson Highways was a humming crossroads with welcoming lodging and most importantly, a gas station. In 2015, all the buildings were abandoned and boarded up. Our gamble then was to drive 10 miles west on the Denali Highway and hope that the restaurant hotel with a gas pump 10 miles up the Denali Highway wasn’t closed.

Luck was with us because the Tangle River Inn was still thriving. Their campsites were full and even along the Denali Highway every turnout was filled with hunters in RVs and trucks overnighting. The normally deserted 130 mile gravel road was packed because this was the annual caribou migration.

After fueling, we turned around and were rewarded with beautiful light behind the mountains as we headed for the Paxson Lake Campground, hoping it wasn’t in a hunting area and still open!

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